Citizens in the Oak Grove community of Macon County hope to save a bridge from demolition by the Department of Transportation.
Located off N.C 28, the one-lane McCoy bridge over the Little Tennessee River is not only a community icon but part of the cultural heritage of the area, says Doug Woodward of Oak Grove, who has joined his neighbors in a campaign to get the bridge refurbished rather than replaced.
DOT met with the community last week and agreed to look into the costs of repairing the bridge rather than tearing it down and replacing it, but the state maintains that the old bridge is rife with problems.
DOT finds fault with bridge
DOT officials say the structure needs to be replaced because it is dangerous and not up to state standards. Plans call for replacing it in 2013. But DOT has agreed to consider rehabilitating the bridge, and will report back to the community with a follow-up meeting in about a year.
“We’re going to go back and take a deeper look at rehabilitation to see if something is economically feasible,” said Chris Lee, DOT bridge maintenance engineer.
“It has been deteriorating for years,” said Charles McConnell, DOT transportation supervisor.
The bridge’s legal load limit is 40,000 pounds, when state standards say it should be 90,000 pounds. McConnell said a small loaded dump truck could not go over the bridge.
The bridge is also narrow at just 10 feet and 8 inches wide, making it difficult for school buses to cross.
“It has quite a few issues,” McConnell said.
Lee noted that the bridge is one lane, so motorists have to take turns with vehicles coming from the other direction.
The bridge also has “foundation issues” from the timber pilings, Lee said.
The bridge is a “fracture critical structure,” meaning that if one piece fell off the entire bridge could collapse, Lee said.
He said the bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed was also a fracture critical structure.
Ultrasonic testing has taken place on the bridge, indicating that “the bridge is about finished with its life,” Lee said.
The state doesn’t have a cost estimate on the rehab.
“It’s very easy for an overloaded vehicle to go over it tomorrow and the whole thing to fall in the river,” Lee said. “Then we’ve got big problems.”
Heritage at stake
McConnell sad the bridge isn’t historical since it was just built in 1960. Woodward said the community believes the bridge dates back to 1946.
The unique truss architecture of the bridge is rare these days, and it should be preserved, Woodward said.
“These bridges are disappearing,” Woodward said.
The bridge suits the beautiful rural setting, where whitetail deer are a common sight.
“It’s at an end of the county where there’s a lot of untouched history,” Woodward said.
The area has been spared of the development that has ransacked other areas in the mountains, making a trip to Cowee like stepping back in time, Woodward added.
The historic bridge belongs in the area rich with other historic sites including Cherokee mounds and the Cowee-West’s Mill Historic District, Woodward said.
The bridge is located near old Cherokee settlements, including Burningtown, said Cowee resident Lamar Marshall, who also wants the bridge to stay.
Replacing the bridge would cost an estimated $3.5 million to $4.5 million, Woodward said.
“We’re saying (DOT) is dismissing rehab too quickly,” Woodward said, adding he would like to see the cost estimate on refurbishing it.
Woodward, a retired engineer, says rehab is viable.
He added that no one’s ever been hurt as a result of the bridge’s age, and few vehicles drive on it.